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Speed of light: <br class="br_visual" />shooting cars with <br class="br_visual" />600EX-RT flashguns

Speed of light:
shooting cars with
600EX-RT flashguns

© Dom Romney

April 2014

Dom Romney works in the fast lane. As a car photographer for magazines and manufacturers his work is in high demand for its clean style, great lighting, impeccable sharpness and bold composition. But it doesn’t come easy, as he reveals to CPN Editor David Corfield...

Canon’s Speedlite 600EX-RT is the top-of-the-range flashgun that offers E-TTL metering, a 20-200mm autozoom head and a guide number of 60m. It's highly versatile for all flash set-ups.

“The car photographer gets a raw deal,” Dom Romney states. “You have to think on your feet all the time and be creative, even when everything is against you. It’s fine for a motoring journalist – they have the luxury of time and a heated driver’s seat – but the car photographer has to get the result, often at crazy angles hanging out the boots of cars, or in muddy footwells, time and again. It’s a tiring business, but the buzz when you get that amazing image is what keeps you coming back for more.”

Dom uses the Canon Speedlite flash system to light cars on location, slaving three of them together with his EOS-1D X DSLR using a PocketWizard remote trigger system. He’s recently started using 600EX-RT flashguns, moving up from his tried and tested 580EX II units, and is suitably impressed...

“First impressions are that there’s a lot more going on in there!” he laughs. “Compared to my old Speedlites, they are a bit of a step change... almost daunting in fact. But then you get to understand the additional sub-menus [of the flashguns] and notice how the similarities are there with the older models in the range. That’s the great thing about Canon equipment – it retains a user-friendliness and a familiar style across its timeline of development, which builds up confidence and loyalty. It worked for me.”

No flash in the pan

Dom’s style has been carefully refined over years of experience and he is no 'one trick pony' when it comes to getting consistently good results. He typically uses his Speedlites as supplementary lighting, using available light to provide much of the ambient. “I tend to use three heads, triggered by a Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT. This handy little device fits onto the camera hotshoe and allows me to fire up to 15 flashguns if I wanted to.”

© Dom Romney

1970 Chevrolet Malibu, lit on location by Speedlite flash. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark II N with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens at 19mm; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/6.3, ISO 50.

He reveals: “The range of that transmitter is great. I can fire compatible Speedlite flashguns up to 30 metres away if I want, which is really impressive. And a radio-frequency control option provides reliable operation too, even when direct line of sight is not possible. With the EOS-1D X, certain flash settings are adjustable direct from the camera, like zoom function and output. This means that once the flashguns are positioned on their lighting stands, they can stay there – I don’t need to keep checking them all the time.”

Dom likes the design and build of the 600EX-RT, praising it for its rugged ability. “It is a weather-sealed unit and I have no concerns about using it in all situations,” he says. “The car photographer is probably the ultimate proving ground for a camera manufacturer. My kit gets a lot of use and abuse, but it’s always ready to work and the flashguns are an integral part of what I do and how I operate.”

When Dom sets his flashguns up, he mounts them on Manfrotto light stands as high as possible over a car, to mimic the sun, and depending on the space he has to work in, will zooms them in manually to focus the light and get as much power from them as possible.

© Dom Romney

Briggs Automotive Company's Mono, lit on location by Speedlite flash. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1.3sec at f/22, ISO 100.

He explains: “I usually use one or two Speedlites as a main key light to pick out the side of the car, and then the other flash I use to focus on details such as a front grille or wheels. I use the zoom function on the Speedlites to focus the light, a bit like a snoot in a studio, and it is surprising how going from 50mm to 100mm on the flash zoom makes such a difference.”

“The light quality is great,” he continues, “and doesn’t fluctuate much in terms of colour temperature and consistency. For portrait work I fit Lastolite ‘Ezyboxes’ to the front of the flashes which give a nice diffuse quality to the output, sacrificing maybe a couple of stops but it’s worth it for the softening effect. Outdoors with a car, though, I don’t have anything fitted to the front. The light spread and quality is more than good enough.”

For a new generation of car photographer right at the top of his game, Dom is very demanding with his equipment, but is quick to praise the Canon EF lens system. “I do like Canon prime lenses,” he states. “They have a look and feel to the image quality that is unique to them. I like the discipline they give me. Call me old-fashioned but I like the effort using primes requires, although the zooms are exceptional in their sharpness and speed of focusing. I have a particular soft-spot for the EF16-35mm as it is just so versatile.”

Refining technique with the EOS-1D X

© Dom Romney

Hot Rod, lit on location by Speedlite flash. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark II N with an EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens at 21mm; the exposure was 8 secs at f/16, ISO 50.

“I’ve been a loyal Canon user ever since my father bought me my first camera,” Dom remembers. “It was a Canon film SLR; the name escapes me. I remember he had an EOS 5 at the time, which I used to covet, but I’ve stuck with the brand from day one, and only a year or so ago went from an EOS-1D Mark IV to the EOS-1D X, which I have to say is probably the ultimate DSLR for what I do.”

In terms of flash settings, Dom sets his main light to full power and uses supplementary lights at anything between quarter and half power. “I tend not to use E-TTL because it’s not constant. Using E-TTL the exposure varies all the time as light levels fluctuate. You spend your life as a photographer trying to eliminate variables so I much prefer to work manually so the main [side] light is 1/1 while the flash on the front grille is normally around half power, although I do fiddle around with the settings to fine tune and balance the flash output to match the main.”

© Dom Romney

Dom’s working environments are ever-changing, but his workflow with Canon Speedlites – seen here mounted with clip-on snoots to focus the light on an Aston Martin indoor shoot – remain constant.

He continues: “The lighting depends very much on the size and colour of the vehicle. If I’m shooting a 4x4, for example, it’s a lot bigger and taller therefore I will adjust how I light it. Likewise the colour; if the car is black you might as well pack up and go home! A black car soaks up so much light and is basically just a huge mirror full of hot spots and highlights.”

“I never really gel my flash heads as I’m always trying to make the colour of the car as realistic and as faithful as possible. One of the reasons I like the Speedlite system is that the colour temperature is extremely good. I now know instinctively how to position the flashguns and what power output works best for each head. So I typically punch a lot more light into the side of a vehicle as it is a much bigger area and normally fairly flat so it takes a lot of light to get the paint to really sparkle. Whereas the front of the car has a lot more going on – with different shapes and textures thanks to things like lights, grilles, chrome trim and such – I run that flash on a lower power setting but positioned a lot closer and higher to crunch in some nice contrasty shadows to get the details and texture to pop.”

© Dom Romney

Behind the scenes on a Jaguar shoot, showing an outdoor lighting arrangement using three Speedlite 600EX-RT flashguns.

“I love the Speedlites because they are light, fast to recycle and you can get them positioned in some interesting places,” he continues. “You are always working against changing ambient conditions such as sunrise and sunset so it’s great to quickly get the light quality where you want it and then just fine-tune the little details. Working with editorial clients, I only ever get around 15 minutes to get a static shot, so you can see how quickly I have to work and in that time I’d take on average around 15 images: five to get the framing how I want it, five to get the lights in the right position then five to get the right flash balance.”

Concluding, Dom remarks on the stamina of the 600EX-RT Speedlites he is using today. “They continue to impress me with how fast they recharge, how much power you can get from them and how long the batteries last – up to a full day on a single set of four AA batteries. That’s mightily impressive really. Even when my own batteries are finally run down at the end of a shoot, these 600EX-RTs are still up for more.”


Don Romney’s equipment


2x EOS-1D X
EOS 5D Mark II


EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
EF24mm f/1.4L II USM
EF50mm f/1.2L USM
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF85mm f/1.2L II USM
EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
EF500mm f/4L IS II USM


3x Speedlite 600EX-RT flashguns
3x Speedlite 580EX II flashguns
Speedlite Transmitter ST-E3-RT
PocketWizard remote triggers
Manfrotto tripods and clamps

Biografie: Dom Romney

Dom Romney

UK-born Dom Romney discovered photography at the age of 10 and remembers fondly saving his pocket money to buy a roll of film to take pictures at motoring events he attended with his family. Leaving school he completed an NVQ in Video Production before doing his NCTJ course in press photography at Sheffield University. In February 2009 he won the Renault MSA Young Motorsport Photographer of the Year Award and since then has gone on to win Gold in the FEP Young Photographer of the Year Awards. Dom was ranked in the top four under 25-year-old photographers by the UK Picture Editors Guild in 2011 and was named Renault MSA Young Motorsport Photographer of the Year Award for a second time.


Chevrolet Bel Air, lit on location by Speedlite flash. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with an EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 80mm; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/8, ISO 100.